Sunday, September 26, 2021

Merchants of Hope: A Theory of Capital Accumulation

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor September 19, 2021).

I want to posit that at this conjuncture, as the world-renowned Jamaican-born cultural theorist, Stuart Hall, might have said, that music, sports, and entertainment are a means to an end, the end being political, economic, and social development. Really. What if our leaders were to decide that in this dispensation one of the primary roles our music, sports, and entertainment output will play in service to our development objectives was to be a key vehicle of capital accumulation? This would be awesome, but I can see this notion being dismissed as being vulgar, and perhaps exploitative. I can understand those positions, and I disagree. 

Photo credit: Magda Ehlers, Jamaica Monitor

In my commentary titled, “Entertaining Business Champions”, which was published on this platform I spoke to the development of music entertainer Rihanna being officially recognized as a billionaire. I also deliberately referred to sporting legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson and his book 32 Ways to Be a Champion in Business. In some other writings, including my last, I have also referred to the financial accomplishments of Jamaica’s preeminent music entertainer, Bob Marley. While in other fora I have commented on the financial accomplishment of the American entertainer Jay Z. These references, each a case study in their own right, all serve to illustrate a further point that a beginning in music, sports or elsewhere along the entertainment spectrum does not need to be an end in and of itself, but rather a stepping stone to greater financial success. This should in no way negate the desires of those who choose these pursuits as ends in themselves, but what is evident in these fields of endeavor is that financial success, when it comes, may be fleeting and it requires more than the bare minimum preparation and acumen to sustain a talent at a multi-millionaire status as the years go by. 

The common thread in the stories of these music artists and sports personalities that I have mentioned above is that they have taken whatever success and cache, not necessarily cash, that they have gained in their field of entertainment endeavor and parlayed/managed that success into other business endeavors that may, or may not, include entertainment or sports, that then generates for them wealth on a sustained basis. These entertainers turned entrepreneurs have built for themselves systems of capital accumulation that in many ways have utilized principles that give deference to their own cultures in ways that other systems of capital accumulation historically have not. It is this process, the practice of a cultural deference, that makes this interesting to me, and makes the thinking about this phenomenon and the pursuit of a theory of capital accumulation for our context that I think has some hope for our collective redemption, and ultimately political, economic, and social development. In a sense then I view these persons as merchants of hope for some of the marginalized. 

In Jamaica, I find we are easily mesmerized by the shiny object of influence. And there is no shortage of commentary on the evidence that Jamaica’s music output remains influential in many international markets. Patricia Meschino does this brilliantly in her article “Check out the real situation: Charting reggae's vast influence” published in The Jamaica Observer on Sunday, April 18, 2021, where she traces the influence of Jamaican music in the popular music forms of rap/hip hop, reggaeton, EDM, afrobeats, and even some of what is classified as mainstream pop – as does Michael Veal’s 2007 classic book, titled Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. Interestingly, Meschino asks why despite this influence Jamaica and Jamaica’s music does not get the recognition it rightly deserves. This is a fair question. What much of the writings demonstrate is not that Jamaica’s entertainment output is of inferior quality, but that there are other structural issues, that include a lack, or perhaps more accurately, the misallocation of capital - because brand recognition and influence too represent capital - that surrounds Jamaica’s entertainment business, which precludes Jamaicans from gaining a greater share of the larger economic pie. 

Dub by Michael Veal

If my theory of capital accumulation is to be proven then it means that Jamaica’s participation must extend beyond elementary business activity in music, sports, and entertainment into wider realms and up the value chain of the entertainment, culture, and creative industries (events and festivals; radio; film, video and photography; television and cable; telecommunications; internet and online media; electronic gaming; publishing and printing; sport and recreation; fashion; cultural and heritage tourism; amusement and theme parks; gaming and wagering; toys and games; commercial art; cuisine and food culture), and any other industry a talent may choose for that matter, by using the recognition or income gained at one level and through better management and deal-making leverage those resources to get to the next level. This means recognizing your value as a culturally determined brand. But, secondly, giving deference to your culture of origin in ways that others cannot. This is important because the deference/respect for your own culture is a critical part of your long-term business success at this conjuncture. 

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. He is a researcher of African and Caribbean entertainment and cultural enterprise management, and is a former Deputy Director of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Jamaica. He has also served as a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board. He is the conceptualizer and first coordinator of the pioneering BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Ajax, Bob Marley, Rastafari and Jamaica’s Apparel Business

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor August 29, 2021)

On August 20, 2021 BBC Sport carried a story headlined “Bob Marley and the Tailors – Ajax release Three Little Birds inspired kit”. The story is about one of the Dutch football club’s 2021-22 season jerseys. To quote the story, it says, “The shirt incorporates the colours of the Jamaican flag and features three little birds stitched onto the back - an obvious nod to the Marley track of the same name.” 

Source: Ajax Football Club

If you have seen an image of this stitch we will not dwell on the fact that the colours used are actually red, gold and green, and not the black, green and gold that are the colours of the Jamaican flag. Notwithanding, I want to direct your attention to the association in the international mind. It is this association, and perception, that is the real space in which our outward looking businesses must function, and we can either use it to our advantage or lose such opportunities. 

Source: Ajax Football Club

Jamaica’s popular Rastafari cultural expression has opened and shaped a world for us that we can either step into, or as we have seen in so many other instances, allow it to be taken over by devotees elsewhere who have advanced the message of one love, the faith in Jah, the ital food, the dress, the community, the commerce and the liviti in ways that marvel Jamaicans when they travel and encounter their own culture in these foreign lands.

A question then is why can’t this same effect be realized at home, in Jamaica? Who are the people engaging with the elements of Jamaican culture abroad, and why can’t we have them engage in this way on the island where more Jamaicans could benefit? What are the mechanisms that are at play? How can we recreate them? In one sense, I know that there is not a shortage of people who are willing and able to help, but that a significant part of the challenge is figuring out how to get out of our own way. On the surface of it I can say that we are burdened with old racist and classist ideas that simply cannot serve us in this dispensation. More specifically, when considering this sporting example, I am asking with our sporting tradition, when will we have our own sporting brand? 

Source: Adidas

We have served Nike, Adidas and Puma well, and they have helped us too, but it is time for our own, because there is a global market there that wants the apparel that we can organize to deliver. And, if we can organize the investors and a team to do it and the brand is not willing to embrace our Rastafari heritage, then I am willing to go out on a limb and say it will be dead on arrival, or soon thereafter. 

The lukewarm embrace of our Jamaican identity has been the approach of corporate and monied Jamaica, because we have been schooled for decades to learn that everything about that identity, us and our person is wrong, beginning with our language and speech, our hair, our aesthetic, and our values. Nevertheless, it has been slowly changing because more and more Jamaican businesses are discovering that a measured embrace of Jamaicaness is a way to unlock value – money. I am optimistic, and I feel it will continue to shift along that trajectory as we begin to discover more and more where the real gold in our economy lays. If you ever wondered what the late Professor Rex Nettleford meant when he said that every Jamaican is a Rasta, mine is a new interpretation for you. It is in fact who we are, and it is the way the world sees us. The group Morgan Heritage sang for us, “yu doan affi dred to bi Rasta” so if you find that you don’t have locks then there is no need to worry, just learn to embrace it, because it is not going away.

One thing this whole episode says to me is we need to reimagine our athletic and sporting apparel and think differently about its role in our global involvement. In the same manner that we represent at the sporting table we should think differently about an involvement in the apparel businesses over the long-term. After all, the plan I expect is to be in this sporting spotlight for generations. Having established this then, Jamaica’s apparel must have life in the market before, during and after sporting events. The question that preoccupies me is not if this can be achieved, but how can this be achieved? Additionally, this Ajax football club development has raised in my mind questions about how we in Jamaica engage fans, both local and international. Are we actively cultivating them? Are we producing merchandise and content to satisfy their needs, both those they have and those they do not yet know that they have? 

This brings me to the point that triggered me to write this commentary in the first place. BBC Sport’s Facebook account shared the link to their story saying, “It caused their website to crash [exploding head emoji] 🤯.” Do we appreciate what it means when demand for what you offer brings about a website crash? Jamaica’s Bob Marley, the Rastafarian, dead since 1981, and who still grosses an average income of USD$20m each year brought about a website crash of this “Dutch super-power” football team. Maybe we should think twice about what we have been doing since 1981. Let that sink in.

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. He is a researcher of African and Caribbean entertainment and cultural enterprise management, and is a former Deputy Director of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Jamaica. He has also served as a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board. He is the conceptualizer and first coordinator of the pioneering BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.